Linux Foundation to standardize, simplify the DPU ecosystem

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The Linux Foundation launched the Open Programmable Infrastructure project to standardize the software stack and APIs supporting data processing units to make them easier to use in enterprise data centers.

OPI will define the DPU and develop standardized software frameworks and application programming interfaces (APIs) to make DPUs, also known as infrastructure processing units (IPUs), easier to deploy in enterprise data centers , the Linux Foundation said this week.

UPDs are smartNIC semiconductors dedicated to offloading networking and communication functions from the CPU. Companies that continue their digital transformation are producing more data than ever. Having a dedicated network and security silicon helps reduce network traffic latency.

The OPI project will create a community of silicon vendors, device manufacturers, software vendors, test and measurement companies, OEMs and end users to develop standard architectures and frameworks for software stacks that run on DPUs. Founding members of the community include Dell Technologies, F5, Marvell, Nvidia, Intel, and Red Hat.

Cloud providers and hyperscalers today use DPUs to meet the latency and reliability requirements of moving massive amounts of traffic. While hyperscalers code the infrastructure to support DPUs from scratch, companies need vendors to provide standardized tools to tailor DPUs to specific tasks. DPU vendors today provide proprietary software stacks that are not interoperable with other vendors’ silicon or widely supported by device manufacturers.

The project will also develop APIs to connect standardized software stacks to other elements of a DPU ecosystem, including hardware, cloud-hosted applications, and software that provides remote provisioning and orchestration. Simplified and standardized APIs will help ensure portability of applications between a company’s own data center and a cloud data center, which might use a different DPU in its infrastructure.

“It brings the industry together around a common standard, [so] you can use DPUs anywhere,” said IDC analyst Brandon Hoff. Once a common set of standards has been widely adopted, DPUs “become really plug and play — they’re ubiquitous, they’re easy to use — and it goes from a niche market to a general market. “

Hoff predicts a widely supported standard in three to five years. Pre-packaged DPUs in enterprise hardware will likely take five to 10 years.

The Infrastructure Programmer’s Development Kit (IPDK), an open source framework of drivers and APIs that the Linux Foundation developed to offload and manage network infrastructure, has been made a subproject of the initiative OPI. OPI will use the IPDK to create the initial software stacks and drivers.

Nvidia contributed its open-source software development kit DOCA to the OPI project. DOCA includes libraries, drivers, documentation, services, management tools, and sample applications.

Other goals of the OPI project are to agree on a standard definition of a DPU, create an ecosystem of open source applications to run on the DPU, and integrate the technology into the Linux kernel. The OPI project plans to foster an ecosystem of open source applications for the DPU by integrating with open source Linux Foundation projects such as the Data Plane SDK and Open vSwitch. DPDK provides data plane libraries and drivers for network interface cards. Open vSwitch is a virtual switch designed to enable network automation.

Ultimately, using DPUs in the enterprise will help network managers run more efficient data centers, proponents said. Modern technologies such as 5G, deep learning, and cryptocurrency require high-speed network capabilities and packet processing to support the volume of data they produce.

Moving virtualization software to the DPU will also increase efficiency by allowing more virtual machines to run on a single physical server.

Madelaine Millar is a news writer covering networking technology at TechTarget. She has previously written about science and technology for MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory and the Khoury College of Computer Sciences, as well as community news coverage for Boston Globe Media.

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